(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, Katherine, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
"Man’s important invention, the wheel, has come to symbolize every form of advancement. Often we refer to the wheels of progress or the wheel of fortune or fate. For a martyred saint of Egypt in the fourth century, however, the wheel became the symbol of death as stark as the guillotine of France. When St. Katherine died in agony on a spiked wheel – devised to make her death a protracted process of pain – her lifelong radiance as a brilliant Christian continued to glow and is still manifest in the shrines that have been erected in her memory.
Lacking the forms of communication that were to develop mankind’s intellectual and spiritual interests, the society of the early centuries relied on the public forum as its sole source of information and stimulation of thought. This accounts for the great popularity of this form of expression, which brought to the public’s attention great figures of the time who might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Into this atmosphere of public discourse came one of the brightest minds of Christianity, that of a mere girl named Katherine, who early in life displayed the wisdom of ages and championed the cause of Christianity with an eloquence unsurpassed by her male counterparts.
The presence in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, of the pious and astute Katherine was unknown until she made her debut at the age of eighteen in the public forum in defense of the Christian faith. The defenders of Christianity had fared badly in the public debates, principally because the most powerful orators of the day espoused pagan beliefs and had little difficulty in making sport of Jesus, the Son of God, whose followers were long on faith but short in numbers. But the pagan philosophers were a Goliath against the David who appeared in the form of a wisp of a girl called Katherine.
With the quiet dignity that stemmed from her noble birth, the beautiful Katherine impressed the forum audience from the moment she strode forth to speak. When she had parried every pagan thrust in a torrent of rhetoric that routed her opponents, the public was virtually spellbound. In the process of throwing the haughty pagan thinkers into a state of confusion, she captured the hearts of the listeners. Those who had welcomed her to the forum hoping that she would be driven from it in derision were themselves driven in angered frustration to seek out a means of silencing this frail creature whose Christian sagacity was winning converts as fast as they could assemble.
An appeal was made by Katherine’s enemies to the Emperor Maxentius, who authorized the tyrant Maximus Daia to mete out whatever punishment he deemed necessary for the crimes against the State enumerated by sycophants of the pagan ruler. Her friends looked on helplessly as the devout woman who had labored for Christ was led away to face the stern justice handed down to the so-called enemies of the state. The courageous Katherine denied the customary offer of clemency in exchange for a disavowal of the Savior. They therefore decided that she should be put to death in a manner so cruel as to discourage any other Christian, man or woman, from exposing himself to the wrath of pagan justice.
The example they sought to make of Katherine, fiendish as it was, turned instead into an example of the superhuman courage of the Christian martyr, the kind of Christian who could endure excruciating pain in the name of Jesus Christ. The redoutable girl was placed on a wheel of spikes which revolved; the centrifugal force of the wheel produced an inhuman torture on the body until at last death came as an escape from the harsh world of the flesh to the arms of the Savior. The lovely Katherine died on November 25, 311 and eventually her remains were brought to the monastery of Mt. Sinai which bears her name and where thousands of pilgrims annually pay homage to one of the sweetest Christians in history. An icon of St. Katherine invariably depicts her impaled upon the wheel on which she rolled to heaven."
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.